The Three-Pointer: The Mile High Flub
1. No boards.
Kandi and Eddie Griffin corralled three rebounds in a combined 24 and a half minutes, one more than 5'5" Earl Boykins in the same amount of time. Szczerbiak had one in 26:34 minutes, and 6'7" point guard Marko Jaric was shut out in 24 minutes of play. Even KG was thoroughly beaten by Marcus Camby, who had 22 rebounds and 7 blocks. Two guys who live by hustle, Mark Madsen and Ronnie Dupree, had the Wolves' best rebounds-per-minutes totals. It was a pitiful effort made even more shameful by the fact that Denver has lost power forward Nene for the season and was without their rebounding tough guy Kenyon Martin, a late scratch last night.
Solution? I can't lay this one on the coach, who played all 12 guys at least 9 and a half minutes in search of a group that could box out and/or scramble for loose balls. The Wolves played without energy or intelligence, and all the schemes and substitutions in the world won't cure that. Casey is learning about the inevitably diminishing returns of Michael Olowokandi, however, who still can't guard the pick and roll.
2. The Adventures of Marko Jaric.
I'm beginning to understand why Bill Simmons, the ESPN
"Sports Guy" and a Clippers fan by default while living in L.A. last year, kept tearing his hair out over Jaric. The guy has got such a sublime upside--he's huge, has an intimate understanding of the game, and has shown that, aside from being an unreliable ball-handler against a trapping defense, can do everything well. But he's too often careless, and that lack of mental rigor occasionally affects every aspect of his game.
I believe Jaric would respond to a short leash. Bench him periodically for not moving his feet on defense, for dishing to the wrong people in the wrong situations (like the lead pass he made to stone-hands Kandi running the floor at near full speed on the break against the Lakers recently), and for not boxing out on rebounds. Insert Anthony Carter into the lineup as part of the early rotation (A.C. was the last of 12 men to play against Denver, which is absurd). And play more high-post pick and roll with K.G. and Jaric, who are both good outside shooters and both can penetrate the hole with force.
3. Attention! McCants is Outdefending Wally
That's three strong games in a row for Rashad McCants, who blocked Voshon Lenard's jumper last night and also got himself involved in passing lanes on defense. Coach Casey's preaching, and the copious bench time, have obviously lit a fire under McCants, who is already without question the most capable scorer on the team off the dribble.
Meanwhile, Wally Szczerbiak is probably waking up with a stiff neck this morning from trying to track all the players whizzing past him along the baseline and in the lane against Denver. Granted, the Nugs are very quick, the air in Denver is very thin, and Wally is clearly still not quite 100 percent from the various knee and ankle injuries of the preseason. (Alas, the proof for that is probably never going to be Wally's D, but the number of times he breaks out for lay-ups in transition.) It should also be noted that Szczerbiak led the team in scoring and tied for the lead in assists last night. But he's an obvious liability out there on interior defense, especially when the clueless Kandi is the one who has to cover for him.
Both of these front court starters rely on KG to compensate for their weaknesses on defense, and when the superstar is playing someone like Camby, who is giving him all he can handle by himself, this team is in trouble. Wally, in the midst of a long-term deal at some $10 million per season, is accountable.
But let's leave on a positive note. Those who haven't seen the game will read that McCants got thrown out after picking up two technical fouls for taunting. They will also read Casey's quote: "I told him he will not play in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform if he wants to be in theatrics." Fine, Casey is right to take a hard line. But the first taunting came because McCants and KG were banging chests and talking smack to each other after a KG dunk. The second one came after McCants dunked over Marcus Camby, one of the most accomplished shot blockers in the league, who was in position to take on McCants. Yeah, the rookie has to learn not to rub it in. But the fact that he even has the opportunity to taunt is a hopeful sign for a ballclub is dire need of athleticism.